Letter of Henry Buck, Co K, Fifty-First Illinois Infantry

Camp Near Hamburgh, Tennessee
April 28th, 1862

To Miss Helen A. Buck

My dear sister,

I wrote you last from the Steamer Taylor, on the Mississippi, near New Madrid [Missouri].1 From then I will go on with my narrative. Shortly after I finished the letter I had a fine sunset view of Island Number 10 — a grand place for a fortification to command the navigation of the Mississippi. We passed Hickman and Columbus in the night and arrived at Cairo early Saturday morning, which unfortunate town we found almost submerged, he people being obliged to navigate the streets.

On the boats we had lived on hard bread (hardtack) and coffee, there being no chance to cook anything else, and the landing of several thousand hungry soldiers was a godsend to the provision dealers of Cairo. In 15 minutes not a particle of anything like bread, cake or cheese could be found in the town. It was literally leaned out of everything eatable. There to my surprise, I met Will Martin, who is a sergeant major in the 2nd Michigan Cavalry. He had been in our army at New Madrid and in the river expedition and I had not known it. He is still here - somewhere, but I have not seen him since we left Cairo. From Cairo we steamed up the Ohio to Metropolis, Ill., where we were detained all night taking on coals; and then on to Paducah, Ky., a very pretty place — much lager than I had supposed, It appears to be a fine business place of perhaps 10,000 or 12,000 inhabitants. There we took on commissary stores and then proceeded up the Tennessee.

Monday morning I awoke just in time to see the remains of the once magnificent bridge of the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville R.R. over the Tennessee. We had passed Fort Henry in the night so I missed seeing it. The Tennessee is a lovely stream, and had it been at any other time than in a cold rain storm I should have enjoyed the trip exceedingly. The foliage on its banks is very thick and of a rich green, an numerous high bluffs of solid rock, gray and moss-grown, frowned down upon us from either shore.

Tuesday morning we found ourselves at our landing place a few miles above Pittsburgh Landing. The sun was shining clear, a sure sign that the five-day storm was over. Gladly we landed. Nearly tend days had we been "cooped" in the close, crowded, dingy transports. After cooking our dinner we marched a mile or two up the river to the camping ground designated for us — in a fine meadow near the little village of Hamburgh and about half a mile from the river.

Friday morning early we were ordered to prepare two days' rations and to hold ourselves in readiness for a march. We were detained until yesterday morning, as if no movement could be made but on Sunday, when we made an advance of four or five miles on the road to Corinth, Mississippi. We are now encamped in a most beautiful grove among the hills about 14 miles from Corinth and about two miles from the boundary line of Mississippi and eight or ten from that of Alabama. It is a most lovely country — far too lovely to be desecrated by such a scene of fratricidal slaughter as recently occurred here. We are but six or eight miles from the battlefield [Shiloh]. The grand army is advancing slowly and carefully and a few days will bring us before the enemy's works. Then look out for a bloody battle.

Our force, composed of the armies of Generals Grant, Pope, and Buell must number nearly 120,000.2 Besides, General Mitchell is about 20 miles to our left, on the Memphis & Charleston R.R., with nearly 30,000 more. We are on the left of the grand army. It is nothing to see a general now, unless it be Halleck, Grant, Buell, Pope, McClernand, Wallace, Smith or Sherman. The grand army under command of Major Gen. Halleck is divided into three corps de armeé, commanded by Grant, Buell and Pope — all Major Generals. Each corps de armeé is made up of five or six divisions commanded by major or brigadier generals, and each division is made up of three or four brigades, each under command of a brigadier general or a colonel acting as brigadier. So, you see we have 50 or 60 generals here. Our army extends several miles in length. What would you think of there being a fight on our extreme right, 12 or 15 miles from here and we, hearing of it for the first time through the Chicago papers? Such a case has happened.

Yesterday detachments from our division had a skirmish with a rebel reconnoitering party, killing three or four and taking 15 prisoners, none of our men being killed but three or four wounded. Today a large part of our division made a reconnaissance, going on the right of the railroad [toward] Corinth, where they came upon a rebel battery and a force supporting it had a little fight. They killed several of the enemy and took 30 or 40 prisoners and two or three of our men were killed and a few wounded. Undoubtedly all of the Generals know of these skirmishes, but none of the men and but few of the officers outside our own and adjoining divisions will know anything of them until they read of them in the newspapers, Funny, isn't it?

Our division has received some addition recently and some alterations have been made in it, so that now we number about 6,000 men. The 14th Michigan arrived here from Ypsilanti a few days ago and is attached to our division. Their camp is but a few rods from us. I have seen Col. [Robert] Sinclair and other acquaintances from Grand Rapids, and John Lind, 2nd Lieutenant of Company A. The Michigan 12th, 13th and 16th are here but I do not know their whereabouts. I saw Mr. Carter's son of the 3rd Michigan Battery the other day. I have not seen Lucius Mills but I have heard of him. Their battery was taken and retaken six different times Three charges were made upon it and were superintended by Beauregard himself. All of his company but 16 were taken prisoners. A bullet struck his belt plate — a narrow escape. The regiment that Willie Dewey is in is here somewhere — I think in Gen. Buell's army. I will try to see him but doubt my success. We are in so imminent a danger of attack that it is impossible even for field officers to get a pass out of the hearing of their commands.

The last letter I received from you was under the date of April 8th. A late mail arrived yesterday — some of the letters our boys received were mailed as late as April 22nd. How is this? Haven't you written since the 8th of this month? It seems to me that five of you could write often enough so that I could receive a letter from home once a week. If it is through your neglect at home that I couldn't hear from you but once in two or three weeks, I shall cease writing to you altogether.

Now write soon. Love to all,

Henry Buck Letter, Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library, Detroit, Michigan.

1The letter Buck refers to was not preserved.
2Newspapers and soldiers made all kinds of estimates as to the size of Halleck's three-winged army. For the army at the end of April 1862, Buck's estimate is 30,000 to 40,000 too high, but the army was still growing with regiments arriving and debarking at Hamburg and Pittsburg Landings.
3There are other Buck letters on this site, letters which were written from June to August 1862.